Martin Donaldson with A Celtic State of Mind – My extra-innings affection for the Boston Red Sox

In the Autumn of 1986 I received a gift of two baseball caps from my cousin. One was for the New York Mets, the other was the Boston Red Sox.

The two caps represented the teams appearing in the 1986 Fall Classic, the two best teams in baseball who would slug it out to be crowned the World Champions in the World Series.

Something struck me about the Red Sox cap – the team logo was bold, it almost had a Christmas feel to it like two Christmas stockings hanging on a tree.

At the time, I didn’t follow many sports other than football – as a boy from the east end of Glasgow the only sport that mattered was football and the only team was Celtic, but something in those hats buried an interest in me that would be ignited in later life.

Six years later, one of my brothers made a trip to the East Coast of America to visit family in and around New York and Boston. He brought me home stories of a former player called “Babe” Ruth, who played for the Red Sox from 1914 and helped make them the best team in America, but then in 1919 he moved to the New York Yankees.

In that one trade, the period of sporting greatness had come to an end for the Red Sox and signalled the rise of New York Yankees.

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Between 1919 and 1985, the Red Sox would appear in three World Series and lose them all. In contrast, the Yankees would make more than 30 appearances and win 22 of them.

Talk of a “Curse” on the Red Sox and stories of continuous near misses made me pay more attention to their fortunes from the other side of the Atlantic – did Babe Ruth leave a curse on the Red Sox when he was forced to move to the Yankees in 1919?

In 1986, with the long awaited title within grasp, the Red Sox were one out from winning the biggest prize. With the series at 3-2 in favour of the Red Sox, one more play was all that was needed to erase the memory of the 68 years of pain and mark up the win against the Mets.

True to form the Red Sox could not make that play and in a cruel run of events lost the 6th and 7th games of the series.

Making a further four appearances in the playoffs between 1988 and 1999 gave nothing in return for Red Sox fans and the wait for the World Series would continue.

In 2003, The Yankees and the Red Sox would battle it out in the Championship Series to decide who would appear in the World Series. In another heart-breaking loss, the Sox would lose the best of 7 series by 4 games to 3; losing the deciding game in extra innings.

17 years had now passed since the last World Series appearance and 85 years since their last triumph.

12 months on, the Red Sox and Yankees did battle again in the Championship Series, the best of 7 series could not have started any worse for the Sox – the Yankees raced into a 3-0 lead.

The dream was all but over for another year. All the Yankees had to do was win one more match to put the Sox Nation out of their misery.

The only question was – who will the Yankees play in the World Series?

In the 4th game, the Yankees needed 3 outs to end the match up. In the final inning, the Red Sox scored a run to tie the match and then scored 2 more runs in the 12th to keep the series alive.

Game 5 also went to extra innings at Fenway Park – another win that brought the series to 3-2 in favour of the Yankees.

Game 6 and maybe even game 7 would be played at Yankee stadium.

4 early hits for the Red Sox and a huge pitching effort from Curt Shilling ensured the series would go to a deciding match. 3-3 going into the final match in New York.

Game 7 at Yankee stadium saw the Red Sox shake off the burden of living in the shadow of their greatest rivals for 86 years.

Scoring almost at will, the Red Sox won game 7 by 10 runs to 3 and became the first team to win a play-off series after losing the first 3 matches. More importantly, they also progressed to the World Series to play against St Louis.

ESPN made a 30 for 30 programme called ‘Four Days in October’ charting the comeback from the Red Sox – a must see for any sports fan.

In the space of four matches against St Louis, the weight of history, past achievements and even the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ were lifted and consigned to history.

Sweeping St Louis over four matches in late October 2004 saw the Red Sox claim their first World Series in 86 years. A night that many members of the Sox Nation the world over will remember for ever.

So, that hat I received in 1986 opened up a new world of sporting pain, despair and enjoyment – but that’s what you sign up for as a Red Sox fan.

Martin Donaldson

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